JAMES CITY COUNTY — The community will gather to recognize the service of Vietnam Veterans and give them a “welcome home.”
Organized by Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Chapter 957, a ceremony will take place at Veterans Park, 3793 Ironbound Rd., on Tuesday, March 29 at 1 p.m. to commemorate National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
“The event is held to thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war or listed as missing in action, for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States and to thank and honor the families of these veterans,” Chapter President Tom Monahan said.
Designated an annual event by the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, National Vietnam War Veterans Day honors men and women who served in Vietnam.
VVA Chapter 957 holds the event locally to recognize the service of local veterans, and their families, who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces from Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975, regardless of location.
Jim Icenhour, member of the James City County (JCC) Board of Supervisors and a Vietnam Veteran, will present this year’s guest speaker, retired U.S. Marine Corps veteran Lt. Gen. Rip Van Riper.
“What people don’t realize is nearly 20 to 25 percent of the population here in James City County are veterans,” Icenhour said. “We have a high percentage of active duty and a tremendous number of military retirees.”
Veterans will also be presented with Congressional Certificates of Recognition from Congressman Rob Wittman’s office, as well as Vietnam Veteran 50 Anniversary lapel pins.
Icenhour said that the event is an opportunity to shake Vietnam Veterans’ hands and say “welcome home,” a greeting that they gave themselves when no one else did.
“It was many years before Vietnam Veterans would even admit they were Vietnam Veterans because they didn’t want to raise that red flag for a lot of folks,” he said.
Icenhour reflected on a time when he was back in the U.S. following his Vietnam tour when he was not given a warm reception at an airport.
“Even in civilian clothing they knew who the military people were because of the haircuts, and people would walk out of the way to avoid you, curse at you, spit at you,” he said. “We were considered second class citizens in our own country.”
Icenhour said that this event allows veterans to be properly recognized for their service and sacrifices.
“It’s refreshing to be able to wear my Vietnam vet hat and and have people thank me for my service instead of spitting at me,” he said. “It’s a unique thing that a certain portion of our population experienced and I think it’s a fairly alien concept to a lot of our folks now. Just a little bit of recognition goes a long way.”
VVA Chapter 957 is involved in fundraisers and service projects related to supporting fellow veterans, including an annual picnic for homeless veterans from VetsHouse, Inc., and taking patients from Hunter Holmes McGuire Hospital for veterans in Richmond for a tour and lunch at the Jamestown Settlement.
The National Vietnam War Veterans Day ceremony is co-sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 957, James City County and the Virginia Department of Veteran Services.